HARPSWELL — Despite complaints from residents, the Maine Department of Transportation says that fixing crumbling shoulders and adding bike lanes isn’t in the budget for state-owned roads in town.
Narrow, windy roads and crumbling shoulders make biking on Route 123 and Route 24 a difficult task. Officials are hoping that, with some public outcry, road problems might be fixed.
“We have communicated to (the Maine Department of Transportation), saying if you’re going to do work on state roads, we encourage you to do should work to make things better for cyclists, and even walkers,” Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said.
Ted Talbot, public information officer for MDOT, said state roads are ranked for repair on a system from priority 1 (the most urgently in need of repair) to priority 6 (lowest). Route 123 and Route 24 are both priority 4 roads, he said, adding that at $2 million a mile for repairs, funds are unavailable to add bike lanes or fix shoulders.
“We have tried the things we can do, such as signage, like please share the road, and certainly we value pedestrians and bicycles,” Talbot said. “But our concentration has got to be on the roads that have higher traffic counts that lead to somewhere.”
Both roads were repaved in 2005, he said, and that for the foreseeable future, similar paving jobs are all that is in the budget for the lightly traveled roads.
Recreation Director Gina Perow said that this is not the first time the town has contacted DOT about fixing up state-owned roads for bikers. She said concern from residents is growing.
“(We’ve heard from) multiple taxpayers and visitors,” Perow said. “Bicycling for both recreation and commuting has greatly increased in our area in the last few years. I believe this has led to an increased awareness of road and bicycling safety which, in turn, has caused concern about the conditions of the state roads in Harpswell.”
She added that with the publication of the Harpswell Guide, which outlines recreation in the area, she hopes that more people will be coming to the area for recreation. Because of road conditions, Perow said, she added a section to the guide that outlines safer areas for riders.
“There are areas with parking, so one could drive their car, park and then bike around,” she said. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t solve the problem of how to get from Brunswick to Harpswell on a bike safely, but I feel it offers some great alternatives for those looking to get out to ride recreationally.”
Selectman Jim Henderson echoed the concern at the July 12 Board of Selectmen meeting. He said he thinks it’s great that the Harpswell Guide has been published, but that poor conditions might drive people away. He encouraged residents to come to the board with their concerns.
Selectmen, in turn, will send the concerns to the DOT, Perow said.
Eiane said that it isn’t only residents who have been complaining.
At the nonresident taxpayers meeting on July 11, many summer residents called for road improvements, such as fixing shoulders or adding bike lanes.
“The town has put in requests previously for state road maintenance and expansions to facilitate a bike path,” Perow said. “We will continue our efforts with the state to improve upon the roads.”’
The narrow bike lane on Route 24 in Harpswell is crumbling away in places. Similar problems are have been reported on other state-owned roads, inlcuding Route 123 and Mountain Road.